Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Congress Debates Detainee Rights

Congress has resumed debate over the rights of detained suspected terrorists to petition US courts as to their legal status. Not surprisingly, the debate is split down partisan lines with Democrats calling the President "a Tyrant" and accusing him of assuming dictatorial powers, and Republicans referring to the detainees automatically as "unlawful combatants" and terrorists that are prepared to "cut off someone's head with a hacksaw." (Washington Post: Congress Goes Ahead on Detainees' Rights.)

Unfortunately, what is being lost in this entire debate is the actual legal status of these detainees under the Geneva Conventions (and specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention) as ratified by the US Senate. The whole debate comes down to whether or not they are prisoners of war or unlawful combatants. If the former, then they are afforded all the rights of prisoners as laid out by the four Geneva Conventions that we ratified. If the latter, however, then they have no such protections under any law.

So, are they or aren't they? Well, they certainly do not qualify as POWs given most of the requirements set forth in the Geneva Convention. They are not members of the armed forces. While they are certainly members of a resistance movement, they do not meet the qualifications for protection in that they do not "have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance" and do not "conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war." They are not persons who accompany the armed forces in a support role. They are not members of the crews of aircraft or ships assigned to the armed forces.

But here's where it starts to get sticky. So far, everything has been cut and dry. There are, however, several provisions that cloud the issue. Does this one apply?

Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

That may well apply to a number of the native Iraqi insurgents, depending on how you interpret the clause "respect the laws and customs of war." The foreign insurgents that make up the bulk of al Qaida in Iraq do not meet this qualification, but there is the possibility that Iraqi citizens do.

But then there's this provision, which really muddies the waters:

B. The following shall likewise be treated as prisoners of war under the present Convention:
1. Persons belonging, or having belonged, to the armed forces of the occupied country...

Under that clause, anyone that is currently detained and at one time served in the armed forces of Iraq or Afghanistan is by definition a Prisoner of War. That standard may well apply to the majority of detainees currently in US custody. This doesn't need Congressional debate since it was already ratified by the Senate when the treaty was signed.

As to the status of these detainees now, the Fourth Geneva Convention makes that quite clear:

Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.

In no uncertain terms, the Convention states that everyone detained is assumed to be under the protection of the Geneva Convention until their actual status can be reviewed by a competent tribunal. So really, all that is left for Congress to debate is what constitutes a competent tribunal. Everything else is already a matter of law.

For the record, the position we should be taking is to afford the detainees all the protections we would want to see US citizens receive should the roles be reversed. If these detainees qualify as POWs then they should be treated as such. If they do not (as determined by a competent tribunal), then they are at least entitled to humane treatment for the duration of the war. What we do not need, however, is partisan politics deciding either the fate of the detainees or the manner in which we will conduct ourselves in the prosecution of the insurgents and terrorists with whom we are currently at war.

We signed and the Senate ratified four treaties pertaining to the rules of war and the proper handling of those detained. Quit the partisan nonsense and uphold the treaties that we have ratified.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Free Speech? Depends On Who's Talking

The Supreme Court continued to chip away at rights guaranteed in the Constitution by ruling 5-4 against Joseph Frederick and his "Bong Hits for Jesus" banner. The high court had previously ruled that students in public schools do not have the same rights as adults, something I challenge anyone to find in the constitution, and yesterday's court ruling takes that sentiment a step further. (Washington Post: Court Limits Student Free-Speech Rights.)

The issue with the "Bong Hits" banner, which I admittedly do find offensive, has to do with its apparent promotion of illegal drug use. What the court ruling effectively does, however, is stifle free speech if that speech is being used to seemingly support what is currently an illegal activity. So while I do personally find the banner in question offensive, I find myself even more offended and downright outraged by the court's decision that further tramples on the first amendment. The ability to speak out against current laws, policies, and politics is at the very heart of the first amendment, however that is precisely the type of speech this court would have silenced.

The arguments for women's suffrage would have been stifled under this logic. So would abolitionist arguments since the Constitution made it illegal not to return slaves to their owners. Arguing against prohibition during the 1930s would have been stifled since that would have been perceived as promoting an illegal activity. The ramifications of this type of mindless erosion of our constitutional rights go far beyond the ability of a single student to display a banner that may or may not promote drug use.

According to Justices Alito and Kennedy in writing for the majority opinion, the court's decision pertains strictly to illegal drug use and provides no support for any restriction that goes to political or social issues. How, I wonder, does one separate a discussion on drug laws from political and social issues? Are they not one and the same?

Perhaps we need to be reminded of what the first amendment states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The phrase "or abridging the freedom of speech" does not have any qualifiers. It makes no distinction between the legality of certain actions, political speech, religious speech, social speech, or talking about the weather. The point of the first amendment is simple. The government is not empowered to determine what We the People can state publicly. While the point of Mr. Frederick's banner is not entirely clear, his constitutional right to display that banner is clear.

Several years ago, I mailed each of the nine Supreme Court justices a copy of the US Constitution based on my belief that they had never read the document. Now that we have had a significant turnover in the makeup of the Court, it may be time to do so again. I'm convinced that this crop of justices has never seen nor read the Constitution either.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Blair Hands Reins to Brown

America's closest ally came under new leadership Sunday as outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair handed over the reigns to Gordon Brown. For his part, Brown has pledged to maintain close ties with the US, saying that it is in Britain's best interests to maintain a close relationship with the American president. Indeed, it is in the best interests of both nations to maintain a close and open relationship. (Washington Post: Britain's Next Leader Pledges to Battle for 'Hearts and Minds'.)

Prime Minister Brown addressed the issue that dogged Mr. Blair's tenure, stating that he agreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq, however intends to learn the lessons taught by our efforts there. Under Brown, the British foreign policy will be to "reflect the truth that to isolate and defeat terrorist extremism now involves more than military force. It is also a struggle of ideas and ideals that in the coming years will be waged and won for hearts and minds here at home and round the world."

Fortunately for all, the new Prime Minister recognizes that we are in a very real war with radical elements that use terror tactics as a means to impose their will around the world. Mr. Brown is correct in asserting that this war goes far beyond a military conflict. Rather, it is also a war of public opinion and public support in nations that have traditionally been hostile to western ideas and western cultures. The military aspect is easy. There is not a conventional army in the world that could withstand the combined military might of the US and Great Britain. Unfortunately, as we are seeing in Iraq, we are not fighting a conventional army. We are fighting an underground insurgency that defies conventional military tactics. The only way to win this type of war is by first winning the hearts of the local populace - something at which we have not proven overly adept in recent years.

Prime Minister Brown has a rather delicate balancing act ahead of him. He is taking over from a Prime Minister that was often criticised for his unwavering support of US policy and was viewed by many as a Bush puppet. Making matters more difficult for Tony Blair, it was often perceived that US support for British policy was less forthcoming as evidenced by our refusal to embrace treaties on climate change or the world court. The Iraq issue was exceptionally volatile in the UK since the decision to commit British troops was announced by the Prime Minister after a visit to Washington and prior to any debate in Parliament.

It will be interesting to watch how the new Prime Minister maintains a close working relationship with the US while addressing the perception issues that plagued his predecessor. For our part, it is hopefully obvious to the world that the US values the close relationship we have with the UK. We view Great Britain as a close and trusted friend and hope to see that relationship continue under the new leadership of Prime Minister Brown.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Warrantless Taps Revisited

US District Court judge Royce C. Lamberth, former head of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), renewed the controversial topic of warrantless wire taps in a speech before the American Library Association's annual convention. Said Lamberth, "We have to understand you can fight the war and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war." (Washington Post: Ex-Surveillance Judge Criticizes Warrantless Taps.)

The FISC was created in the aftermath of September 11th, and was intended to provide swift judicial assistance in issuing warrants to wiretap conversations between suspected terrorists and people inside the US. On the surface, FISC sounds like it meets all the legal requirements for issuing a valid warrant, except for one minor detail. The court meets in secret.

Having approved over 99% of the requests submitted by the FBI and NSA, FISC is little more than a rubber stamp for the executive branch. By meeting in secret, the court bypasses the oversight of the most important branch of government in the nation: We The People. There is a reason judicial proceedings are intended to be public. Open proceedings must withstand the scrutiny of the people, and are intended to ensure that the accused is dealt with in a fair and open fashion. Any secret dealings of a court smacks of despotism, blurring the lines between the executive branch and the judicial branch and all but eliminating the checks and balances between the two.

It is not coincidental that the Justice Department and the Judicial Branch of government are separated. They provide a check and balance against each other. Those who represent the government - the prosecutors - do not serve in the branch of government that was created to provide fair and impartial justice. For our system of government to work, those separate and often conflicting entities must remain separate. For any court to meet in secret undermines that separation and undermines the impartiality of the court itself.

The Executive Branch by necessity must place suspected terrorists under surveillance, but it must do so with the approval of the Judicial Branch and the process by which that approval is granted must withstand the rigors of public scrutiny. Said Lamberth, "What we have found in the history of our country is that you can't trust the executive. The executive has to fight and win the war at all costs. But judges understand the war has to be fought, but it can't be at all costs."

That statement is not an indictment on the current administration. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that absolute power cannot be granted to any individual. It is an understanding that the executive branch of government is on a continuous quest to obtain and solidify additional authority. That is true regardless of which political party currently calls the White House home. It has always fallen to the Judicial Branch to rein in attempts to circumvent the Constitution, to rein in attempts to garner powers not granted it under the Constitution, and to maintain that careful balance of authority shared by our three co-equal branches of government.

In the case of warrantless wiretaps, the ends do not and can not justify the means. Liberties once lost are never regained. While it is easily to justify in our own minds the tapping of suspected terrorists, it is imperative that We The People remember that it is our civil liberties, not just those of the terrorists, that are threatened by this action. To surrender our liberties in this fashion is the greatest victory these terrorists could ever hope to achieve. It falls to all of us to ensure that they are not victorious. It is our responsibility to ensure that our civil liberties are not compromised.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Question of Checks and Balances

An oversight agency created in an executive order by President Clinton and subsequently modified by President Bush has complained of a lack of cooperation from Vice President Dick Cheney's office. According to William Leonard, director of The National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, the Vice President has argued that his office does not meet the definition of an executive branch agency and is therefore exempt from oversight. Furthermore, Leonard claims that the Vice President has recommended the dissolution of the agency under an executive order modification. (CNN: Congressman: Cheney challenges classified oversight.)

The Vice President's claim is tenuous at best, and appears to be based on the following clause in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution which reads, "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States." The original text, and the original view of the framers of the Constitution, did indeed envision a single chief executive. Since then, however, amendments to the Constitution have joined the office of the Vice President and office of the President, given specific executive powers to the Vice President during periods of presidential incapacitation. To argue that the office of the Vice President is not an executive branch agency is no longer a viable argument thanks to both the 20th and 25th amendments of the Constitution.

The framers of the Constitution envisioned three co-equal branches of government. Specific duties were assigned to each, but when you look at the specific powers granted to each branch, it is clear that the founding fathers were placing their faith in the Congress, and specifically in the Senate. It is to the Senate that the power of advice and consent has been granted, and it is clear that the framers of the Constitution intended the Senate to provide oversight with regards to the office of the President. While the executive branch was given veto authority over Congress, it is Congress that has the final word with the ability to override a veto. The founding fathers were very careful not to create an executive branch that had too much authority, or that had the ability to override acts of Congress.

What the founders envisioned was a system of checks and balances that would prevent any one branch of government from assuming absolute power. For any branch of government to assume that they are exempt from oversight authority is simply unconstitutional. Oversight of the executive branch by the legislative is at the very heart of our system of government. What is troubling is that the Supreme Court has not upheld this system of checks and balances. In 2001, a challenge issued by the Vice President in his refusal to adhere to congressional requests for lists of energy executives was upheld by the courts. The Supreme Court refused to overturn that decision, thus granting undue authority to the executive branch.

It all comes down to a question of checks and balances. The bottom line is that no one branch of government is supreme. In all cases, two branches of government are required to take action. In the case of the executive branch, oversight on the part of Congress is essential. No agency or office is exempt from that oversight. There can be no exemption from the system of checks and balances that comprise the foundation of our government.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

ACLU Hypocrisy in Dearborn

The University of Michigan - Dearborn plans to install two Muslim Footbaths so Muslim students can complete required ritual washing before their prayers. The cost of the footbaths will be $25,000 and will come out of the state-run university's coffers thanks to an ACLU decision not to oppose the plan. (The Detroit News: Muslims won't fund footbaths.)

According to the ACLU, the installation plan at state expense is a "reasonable accommodation" because Muslim's are currently washing their feet in sinks and thereby spilling the water on the floor. What the ACLU calls "reasonable accommodation" I call "hypocrisy". State funds are being used to install a religious item at a state university. How does that not constitute state sponsorship of a religion? How does this not violate the First Amendment?

The ACLU is quick to jump all over any public religious displays, even if the funding for those displays comes from a private source. Donate a statue of the Ten Commandments to a public park and the ACLU is all over that one. Have the Knights of Columbus put up a Nativity Scene on public land, even though it's paid for privately, and the ACLU is all up-in-arms. But public installation of Muslim footbaths? That's a "reasonable accommodation".

There comes a point where one must conclude that the ACLU is not so much in favor of a separation of church and state as they are in favor of a separation of Christianity and state. I have little doubt that the ACLU would not be supporting the use of state funds for the installation of any Christian or Jewish religious items at UMD, but they are silent when it comes to Muslim items. The hypocrisy in the ACLU's position is blatantly obvious.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bloomberg Leaves GOP

In a move that should come as no surprise to anyone, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has renounced his affiliation with the Republican Party and now classifies himself as an Independent. Rumors abound that the move is a prelude to his unannounced 2008 Presidential bid, however those ambitions notwithstanding, the move is certainly consistent with Bloomberg's own political beliefs. (Guardian Unlimited: Bloomberg quits Republican party.)

Originally aligned with the Democratic Party, Bloomberg reclassified himself as a Republican several years ago, however that mantle never really fit. Bloomberg's open support of gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control, and stem cell research are in direct opposition to the Republican platform. His post-911 property tax increase, while likely justified to counter the economic fallout from the terrorist attacks, also put him at odds with Republican handlers. It's no surprise that Mayor Bloomberg is uncomfortable under the Republican umbrella and has chosen to re-categorize himself as an Independent.

While he has not yet declared his candidacy for 2008, Bloomberg certainly appears poised to do so. Sources close to him indicate that the Mayor is prepared to launch a Presidential bid and has set aside up to $1 Billion of his own funds to support the campaign. (Washington Times: Bloomberg poised for third-party campaign.) Given the impact other third-party candidacies have had on prior Presidential elections, one must wonder what a Bloomberg candidacy will do to both parties in 2008.

Republican strategist Greg Strimple believes, "If he runs, this guarantees a Republican will be the next president of the United States. The Democrats have to be shaking in their boots." Well, to be clear, I would not expect a Republican strategist to say anything else. I'm not so sure that it's an accurate statement, however.

When you look at Bloomberg's position on key issues, it seems easy to conclude that he will draw more votes from the left than he does from the right. But that conclusion completely ignores the positions of the leading candidates in either party. Much of what he believes also falls in line with the positions of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the Republican front runners. Should Giuliani or any of the moderate Republican candidates actually garner the GOP nomination, a Bloomberg run would draw as much from the GOP as it would from the Democrats.

The nation is very much divided into three groups right now. The Democratic party has definitely shifted pretty far to the left, at least in public rhetoric, but the Republican party is divided between the ultra-conservative right and a more moderate wing that is rising to the forefront in the campaign. The bulk of the nation, however, is right smack in the middle, and it is that faction that may well be drawn to a Bloomberg candidacy. With $1 Billion in his war chest before he even starts gathering campaign contributions, it would be folly to dismiss him as a viable candidate in his own right.

The one thing that is a certain outcome should Bloomberg declare in '08 is that the majority of the people will have voted against the 44th President of the United States. There are historical lessons to be learned regarding the impact of third party candidacies. Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860 with only 39% of the vote. In fact, Lincoln wasn't even on the ballot in several states. In 1892, the Populist Party ran James Weaver and actually garnered 22 electoral votes, taking 8.9% of the vote. A showing like that in 2008 may be sufficient to send the election to the House of Representatives, something that has not happened in over a century.

Bottom line is, don't discount a Bloomberg candidacy. With his war chest, he is certainly a viable candidate in his own right. His political views are aligned with the majority of the moderate voters, making him attractive to voters from both political parties. When you look at the approval ratings of the Democratic controlled Congress coupled with the approval ratings of the Republican controlled White House, the only conclusion possible is that the nation is clamoring for a change in direction. It is not policy per se, it is the partisan rhetoric that has soured the nation's stomach on today's politics. It's business as usual regardless of which party is in control, and the nation is fed up with it. The nation may well be ready to embrace a third-party candidacy if for no other reason than to extract themselves from the partisan quagmire that has increasingly engulfed us over the course of the past two decades. Given his current state of funding, Bloomberg may well gain sufficient support to give both parties a run for their money.

Please do not interpret this as any endorsement of Michael Bloomberg on the part of The Grape's Vine. I do not support any of his positions on the major issues, and certainly do not endorse him as a 2008 candidate. Understand, though, that his candidacy must be taken seriously. He will definitely impact the 2008 election and may well be the deciding factor in determining who sits in the Oval Office in January of 2009.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Passing Blame For Passport Delays

The Senate is becoming quite vocal in its criticism of the State Department for "excessive delays" in providing passports for US citizens. The current backlog is due to new rules requiring US citizens to hold a passport when reentering the US by air from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. In the past, only proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate was required. In January 2008, the rules will be extended to include any US border crossing including air, land, and sea travel. (Washington Post: State Dept. Faulted on Hill for Passport Delays.)

According to the Senate, the State Department failed to anticipate the huge surge in passport requests, resulting in the current backlog. The State Department lists 10 weeks as the current wait time for new passport applications. 56 senators signed a letter initiated by Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) which read, "It is unacceptable that American citizens were missing trips because the State Department did not fully anticipate the increase in passport applications and take appropriate action to increase processing resources."

As a frequent overseas traveller, I have no sympathy at all for those waiting for passport processing under the new rules. The problem is not a failure on the part of the State Department. Rather, it is a failure on the part of the traveller to plan appropriately. The Department of Homeland Security did not announce these new rules yesterday. The announcement was made on April 5, 2005, almost two years before the rules went into effect! (New Passport Initiative Announced To Better Secure America's Borders.)

Virtually all tour providers, airline websites, travel websites, and State Department websites have been highlighting the new requirements for over a year. Warnings were in the newspapers and virtually any site related to travel in the summer of 2006 advising people to obtain a passport early if they intended to travel out of the country in 2007. Why is it the State Department's fault that people either chose to ignore the warnings or waited until the last minute to apply?

There is something sorely lacking in our society and it is called "personal responsibility". The State Department did its job. It provided adequate notification almost two years in advance. The travel agencies did their job in providing ample warning. The airlines did their job in highlighting the new rules. Who dropped the ball? Travellers that decided to wait until the last minute to obtain a passport. So is it truly unacceptable that their travel plans are being disrupted? No it's not. Travellers that cannot follow the basic rules for international travel are not victims of the system. The best course of action for these travellers is simple: stay home. Next time, pay attention to the rules and follow them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Socialized Medicine - Where Free Costs a Bundle

A comment on my previous entry is based on a topic of sufficient importance to warrant a separate post, not just a comment reply. The question posed by Silas Scarborough was, "Socialized Medicine - where is it?". It's a valid question in light of the rising costs of health care in the US, the outrageous cost of prescription drugs, and the devastating affect catastrophic care has on even affluent Americans.

The most fundamental problem facing socialized medicine has to do with cost. It's certainly not free, and as seen in other nations that do employ this method, neither does it guarantee adequate health care. Let's look at the UK first. The cost of socialized health care in the UK is based on income. The higher your salary, the more you pay. One responder to the question of how well it works there admitted to paying approximately $200 (in US dollars) per month, which is almost three times what I pay per month as a single employee. That makes sense since he's also paying for those that are unemployed.

The problem doesn't stop there, though. As that poster stated, "The service you are provided with depends on which area of the country you live in, we call it the postcode lottery. The more affluent areas, usually have better hospitals and shorter waiting lists." (How well does Socialized Medicine work in your country? When surgery is needed I understand that there is a long wait if the situation is not critical. How long do you wait for an office visit? What is the monthly cost? Are doctors and patients happy?.)

Well doesn't that sound familiar? So even in a country where everyone has access to health care, the quality and accessibility is still based on your own level of income and the affluence of your community. I can't say that I'm overly surprised. It's for this reason that British citizens that can afford it also maintain private insurance and don't rely on the socialized health care. In effect, they get the pleasure of buying their own and paying for those that "can't" afford it.

How about Canada, though? They have socialized medicine as well, and they are frequently the country that Americans point to as the shining example of how this should work. Well, in Quebec, public expenditure on socialized health care amounts to 29% of the provincial budget. 20% of that comes from a whopping 3.22% wage tax imposed on employers (not employees) and the rest comes from federal and provincial income taxes. It costs $1200 per year per person for this socialized system, so a family of four ends up costing $4800 per year.

Unfortunately, in Canada there is no option for private insurance like there is in the UK. It simply isn't legal. A private insurance company is not allowed to compete with the public system. According to Pierre Lemieux in Socialized Medicine: The Canadian Experience, "The monopoly of basic health insurance has led to a single, homogeneous public system of health care delivery. In such a public monopoly, bureaucratic uniformity and lack of entrepreneurship add to the costs. The system is slow to adjust to changing demands and new technologies. For instance, day clinics and home care are underdeveloped as there exist basically only two types of general hospitals: the non-profit local hospital and the university hospital."

Mr. Lemieux also points out one of the major flaws to this type of system, and it's one of fundamental economics. Since the perceived cost of health care has gone to zero, at least for those that allegedly don't have the ability to pay for health care, demand for that care increases dramatically. In Canada, public expenses for health care have increased at a rate of 9.4% annually since its inception in 1970. Because of the rising costs and increased demand, hospitals are unable to keep pace with technological advances. Between 1972 and 1980, the number of hospital beds in Quebec dropped by 21% due to budget cuts.

To control costs, Canada also instituted a ceiling on fees earned by General Practitioners. The net result is that these same GPs reduced the amount of time they spent with patients by 11%. How did Newton describe this? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction...

The bottom line is that I agree we need to find a means of providing health care for those that truly - and I emphasize the word "truly" - cannot afford it. With unemployment under 4.5%, though, the number of people that are in that category are far fewer than one might otherwise think. Unfortunately, socialized medicine is not the solution. The net result of socialized medicine is a dramatic increase in the cost of health care coupled with a dramatic decrease in the quality of health care. That's not a combination I'm willing to endorse.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

FDA Barely Glances at Chinese, Indian Drug Imports

Despite the scrutiny placed by the FDA on American drug companies, imports of both drugs and drug ingredients from China and India are getting barely a glance. Both countries have seen a tremendous surge in drug orders, primarily for generic drugs from India and active ingredients from China. According to the FDA, they'd like to do more to inspect the imports, but they simply don't have the manpower or budget to do so. (Washington Post: FDA Scrutiny Scant In India, China as Drugs Pour Into U.S..)

When one considers the problems caused by imported pet food from China compounded by the tainted toothpaste also imported from China, one would reasonably assume that the inspection of anything coming in from the third-world would be the highest priority for the FDA. Apparently not.

Chinese and Indian imports are attractive here due to their extremely low cost. Of course, the low cost of those imports isn't surprising given the lack of workplace and health standards in those countries, the lack of pollution controls, and the all-but-slave labor that they employ. Naturally, those are the same reasons American manufacturing and technology are being off-shored to those same countries. Whether we choose to admit it or not, by supporting imports from China and India we are effectively supporting a modern day slave trade and child labor abuses that is not legal by any standard, international or otherwise.

In the case of drug imports, we are placing our own health at risk by accepting generics and active ingredients from countries that have already demonstrated their inability to maintain even the most basic of quality and purity standards in other exports. If I cannot trust them to safely ship pet food and toothpaste, how can I possibly trust them to sell me prescription drugs? Have we now reached the point that we are willing to sell our own health to the lowest bidder?

Our trade agreements with China and India have reached the point where they are now a national security problem. We have given these countries control of our industry, control of our technology, and now control of our health care. We are effectively selling America piece by piece, and we are selling it to nations that have never been our allies. Our trade pacts with the third-world are the greatest threat to our national security, yet most corporations, most politicians, and even most of average America is willingly participating in this national yard sale all under the guise of lower prices. Hopefully we'll wake up in time, but to date I see no evidence that we will.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Iran Imposes Hard-Line Crackdown

Iran has implemented a series of crackdowns aimed at forcing the theocracy back to the oppressive cultural restrictions in place after the Islamic revolution in 1979. According to Human Rights Watch analyst Hadi Ghaemi, "Ahmadinejad has repeatedly stated his goal of purging Iranian society of secular thought. This is taking shape as a cultural revolution, particularly on university campuses, where persecution and prosecution of students and faculty are intensifying with each passing day." (Washington Post: Iran Curtails Freedom In Throwback to 1979.)

The crackdown is hitting college campuses extremely hard. There has been increasing opposition to Ahmadinejad's policies, especially among the youth, and the official response has been detentions and the dissolution of campus social groups. Also targeted is public dress and behaviour deemed offensive to Islam with over 150,000 arrests having been made recently.

Part of the issue facing Ahmadinejad is a failed economic policy resulting in 20% inflation over the last 12 months and a 25% rise in gas prices. The latest crackdowns are intended to squelch the unrest being caused by the economic crisis and are seen as a means of preventing a significant political reaction leading into the 2009 elections.

What this means for us is that Iran is ripe for revolution. The student uprising in 1979 that brought about the Islamic Revolution has long since lost its luster. The younger generation of students is far more western in thoughts, dress, and culture than the previous generation, and the strict Islamic code driven by Ahmadinejad is not well received by the well educated population. Of great significance is the 25% rise in gas prices this year. Iran is an oil rich nation, however they only have one refinery. This makes their infrastructure vulnerable to a single attack, something that would cripple the Iranian economy. This exposure alone makes a revolution in Iran practical.

There are US efforts underway to support a Democratic process in Iran with $75 Million in US funds being diverted for that purpose. Unlike other nations in the Middle East, an Iranian democracy is actually in our best interests. The underpinnings of a cultural revolution have been in place for the past decade, and free elections would likely result in an Iranian government that is far more moderate than we have since since 1979. That does not eliminate the need for a revolution, however.

Since the Shah was removed from power, Iran has been governed by the religious arm, not the political wing. While Ahmadinejad may be the president, it's actually Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who rules the country. No significant changes can occur in Iran without first removing Khamenei, and it will take far more than free elections to accomplish that. What is needed is a political coup not unlike the one that deposed the Shah. Increasing our support for dissident student groups, providing them arms, and providing them funding is our best course of action. A direct US intervention in Iran would be counterproductive. In fact, it was our intervention in Iraq that resulted in the reactionary election of Ahmadinejad in the first place. Rather, the revolution must come from within Iran, and the likely source of that revolution is the current crop of moderate students.

With the Iranian economy already being drained, it is also beneficial to drag them further into the conflict in Iraq. Having their resources drained by their support of the Shiite insurgency would further compound their internal problems. We could help this problem along by encouraging Sunni insurgent raids across the border into neighboring Iranian positions. The weaker the Iranian economy becomes, the greater the likelihood of a revolution to overthrow Khamenei. Such a revolution would deal a severe blow to the radical Islamic war effort since a good deal of covert support and funding is coming from Khamenei's government.

Iran is already spread pretty thin. They are supporting the Shiite insurgency in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza. The drain on their economy appears to be nearing the breaking point. Now it's just a question of how best to nudge it to drive the population into rebellion.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Senate Stymies Energy Progress

The Senate took a series of actions yesterday to cripple or kill any progress towards a meaningful energy bill that would address current supply issues while working towards more efficient future energy measures. At the forefront was an amendment by Senator John Warner (R-VA) to authorize off-shore drilling along the Virginia coast in a search for additional natural gas reserves. The Senate killed that measure despite Senator Domenici's (R-NM) assertion that, "John Warner's bill would be the first energy bill to produce energy." (Washington Post: Senate Rejects Va. Offshore Drilling.)

The major objections came from Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) over concerns that an oil spill off the Virginia coast would cause excessive damage to the New Jersey shoreline. I'll pause a moment to allow my readers to recompose themselves.

Okay. Just so we're all clear, the state of New Jersey, with a series of major oil refineries running through the state's central artery, is concerned about an off-shore spill in Virginia. Never mind the heavy dependence New Jersey has on refineries, and never mind that the ports around Philadelphia just to the south of New Jersey are also lined with oil refineries. The potential for a shipping disaster in either of those locations that would impact the New Jersey coast far outweighs any risk imposed by drilling off the Virginia coast. Instead, all this constitutes is partisan political obstructionism. So instead of actually doing something to increase our own supply while reducing our dependency on foreign sources, we are once again handcuffed by partisan politics. Why am I not surprised?

The Senate didn't stop there, though. Also rejected was a proposal by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) that would require utilities to increase their use of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, or bio-fuel. That measure was blocked by the Republican side of the aisle, so let's not assume that obstructionism is a solely Democrat tactic.

Of course, what would a meaningful energy bill be without some safeguards for our special interest groups? Now, when it comes to protecting the wallets of the auto industry, the Senate can certainly act in a bipartisan fashion. On the surface, legislation supported by Carl Levin (D-MI) and Christopher Bond (R-MO) sounds good. It requires cars to achieve an average 36 MPG and trucks to achieve 30 MPG by 2022. Oddly enough, this is supported by the auto industry, so a closer look is required. As it turns out, this measure replaces one that would have resulted in a requirement for both cars and trucks to achieve 35 MPG in 2020 but increasing the requirement to 52 MPG by 2030. No wonder the auto industry likes the new measure! I'm certain the average consumer would benefit more from the original, however, but the average consumer has no lobby in Congress.

So the net result is business as usual in the US Senate. Action on a meaningful energy bill is effectively stalled thanks to partisan politics, and measures beneficial to major industry replace those beneficial to the American consumer. Is there any wonder why the approval ratings of both Congress and the President are approaching all-time lows?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Troop Surge Appears Ineffective

A Pentagon report released yesterday reveals that the level of violence in Iraq has not decreased since the implementation of a US troop surge intended to stabilize the country. While the amount of violence did initially decrease in areas where the US troop presence was focused, it simply resulted in a migration of violence towards other areas in which the US was not overly active. (Washington Post: No Drop in Iraq Violence Seen Since Troop Buildup.)

While the concept of a troop surge to quell violence does sound feasible on paper, the reality is that the actual increase was insufficient to address the problems in Iraq as a whole. It also did nothing to resolve the underlying political problems with the Iraqi power centers, and realistically that must be resolved before there is any hope of an end to the sectarian violence that is plaguing the region. A series of goals were set before the Iraqi government with the intention of settling the political and sectarian strife, however those goals have not been met and neither is there any apparent movement towards addressing them.

It is far too simplistic to view the violence in Iraq as being directed at the US. In fact, the US is a very minor target in the overwhelming majority of attacks. Rather, the problem is urban warfare between the Shiite and Sunni factions, a conflict that dates back centuries. Whether or not there is a political or military solution to that problem is in serious doubt. While it is a popular view today to point to the Hussein era as a period where that strife was contained, that is an extremely inaccurate view of the reality of the Iraqi political landscape during the Hussein years. Remember, the US and Great Britain maintained a "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq to protect the Shiites from attacks by Hussein's military. A similar "no-fly" zone was maintained in the north to protect the Kurds from Hussein's attacks. The iron-fist wielded by Hussein in the 90's may have applied to the Sunni Triangle, but it started to crumble fast the further north or south you traveled outside of Sunni controlled areas.

The situation in Iraq right now is not one we can solve militarily. Rather, it will need to be sorted out internally, and that likely means allowing the civil war that has been building since the 1920s to play itself out. British Imperialism followed by covert US intervention during the Iran - Iraq conflict simply put the inter-factional strife on hold. The stranglehold in the Hussein era was already beginning to unravel in the late 1980s, and it has now boiled over. To point the finger at current US military action as the cause of that unravelling is to deny the events that took place throughout the 1980s and 1990s. We certainly hastened it by removing Hussein and the bulk of the Iraqi military, however the knot was untied long before we arrived on the scene.

Now that it has reached the point of open conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites, the best course of action we could take at this point would be to step aside and let them fight it out. With Iran covertly supporting the Shiites, it's unlikely the Sunnis could prevail in that conflict, but until they settle it themselves there is not a lot that we can do other than get caught in the crossfire. At some point we will need to deal with the Iranian problem, but in the interim it is not necessarily bad for the US if Iran becomes increasingly tangled up in a Shiite versus Sunni civil war. As we can attest from our own experiences, that type of conflict can be a significant drain on internal resources.

Given a choice, it would be better for the US should the Sunni factions prevail, however. As a whole, the Sunni sect is less fundamentalist, less fanatical in their interpretation and application of scripture, and overall tends to be more tolerant of western ideas than their Shiite counterparts. Morocco is a good example of a Muslim country that is tolerant of non-Muslim internal populations and is extremely pro-western in its policies. Morocco is a predominantly Sunni population.

Unfortunately for the Sunnis in Iraq, the regions they control have no resources of value to the west. The Shiite territories contain oil and Iraq's only port, while the Kurdish territories contain oil and border a major NATO ally that is more vital to the West than anything Iraq as a whole has to offer. All things being equal, the US would likely champion the Sunnis and put a quick end to the conflict. With natural resources and political realities in the mix, however, we do not have that luxury and will be forced to deal with a likely Shiite victory in the south and central portions, and a Turkish / Kurd battle in the north.

In the interim, we need to step out of the middle. It is not a defeat in Iraq if we recognize that a Shiite and Sunni conflict should not involve US troops, and that we will withdraw until such time as there is a legitimate Iraqi government with which we can deal. I am currently at a loss to find a reason for US troops to attempt to quell a civil war that is truly inevitable. It's better for us all around if we step back, let them fight it out, and then deal with the winner. If it ties Iran up in the process, so much the better.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Special Interests Wage Energy Bill War

While the Senate debates an energy bill that is already receiving veto threats from the White House, Senate Democrats are drafting a second measure that would earmark $10 Billion in loans for a coal to liquid fuel project. That bill has significant support among Senators from coal rich states, however it is meeting a great deal of opposition from the environmentalist lobby who oppose both coal mining and the greenhouse gas emissions (primarily carbon dioxide and water vapor) that the coal to liquid conversion would generate. (Washington Post: Democrats Push Coal-to-Liquids Energy Plan.)

The conversion of coal to liquid fuel, while inefficient from a process standpoint, is a viable means of increasing the non-petroleum based fuel additives without placing additional demand on the food supply as would occur with increased use of bio-fuels. Granted, it is not a permanent solution and efforts to develop a new energy source are still required, however any measure such as this that would decrease our consumption of oil based products is certainly worth investigation.

All energy proposals currently on the table are receiving widespread criticism from a variety of sources. The White House opposes a measure to mandate MPG minimum requirements. The auto industry opposes a measure to mandate increased fuel efficiencies. Environmental groups oppose a measure that does not significantly increase the standards for emissions controls. Simply put, there appear to be too many conflicting power groups - including lawmakers on both sides of the aisle - for a viable energy plan to make it into law.

The Democrat proposed coal to liquids measure is already struggling from other leading Democrats, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)who wants to include greenhouse gas emissions control in the measure - something which would make the entire process unworkable. Since water vapor is the largest greenhouse gas by volume present in our atmosphere and since water vapor is a natural byproduct from organic chemical reactions, it seems to me that the two measures are mutually exclusive. That alone may make it impossible for this measure to even make it out of committee.

What it all means is that legislators on both sides of the aisle want to talk tough on energy. At the same time, there does not appear to be any desire on the part of those same legislators to set an energy policy that is both viable and productive. With the House and Senate equally divided, special interests groups all lobbying against different aspects of any energy bill that comes up, and the White House vowing to veto any bill that sets concrete standards, it seems clear to me that nothing at all will be done for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bush Eyes Mullen for Joint Chief's Head

President Bush's top choice for Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, may signal a subtle shift in the administration's strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mullen, currently head of the US Navy, has been voicing concern for some time that our extended involvement in Iraq is putting excessive strains on the Marines and Army. (Washington Post: Nominee to Head Joint Chiefs Sees Current Strain on Military.)

The argument is not a new one, however it is an abrupt about-face for the President to appoint one with such views to head the Joint Chiefs. Admiral Robert J. Natter who attended the Naval Academy with Mullen described him as, "A realist [who] would say this is as much a political issue solvable only by the Iraqis as it is a military force issue partially solvable by the U.S. military." That would seem to signal a shift in the administration's focus from a military solution towards a more political solution, assuming one is even achievable in that region.

While a new perspective at the top is certainly a welcome change, we as a nation should be more concerned that a four-year engagement involving approximately 140,000 US troops should pose that great a strain on the military. Indeed, while nobody will argue the hazards of serving in Iraq, by all standards the engagement there is extremely light compared to past wars involving the US. If this engagement has strained the marines and army, then it is high time we addressed that problem and restructured our military to support a sustained conflict.

Vietnam lasted for 7 1/2 years with 4.3% of the US population enrolled in the military. World War II, the Korean War, the American Revolution and the Civil War were all as long as our current engagement in Iraq, and there can be little doubt that the actual amount of combat in those wars was astronomical compared to anything we face today in Iraq, yet the current structure of our military is straining to maintain 140,000 on the battlefield. That is a problem.

The last time we had to mobilize for war we instituted a draft. Unfortunately, the draft concept is flawed from the start. It breeds corruption and pretty much guarantees that only the poor or minorities will end up serving. Oddly enough, the draft was conceived to prevent just that, but never underestimate the ability of the human race to corrupt and abuse any bureaucratic system. In any case, I do not advocate a draft since there is no legitimate reason to believe that it would be any less corrupt, any less racially and socially biased today than it was in 1970. Instead, what I advocate is Universal Military Service.

In my view, every American has an obligation to serve his or her country. When a US Citizen turns 18, then it is that American's obligation to enter military service for a period of not less than two years. No exemptions, no deferments, no objections. Every American serves regardless of race, creed, gender, financial status, or any other category by which people avoided service in the 1970s. Service in the military should also be a prerequisite for obtaining US Citizenship and even for obtaining a visa that extends beyond five-years.

It is time Americans gave back to this nation instead of standing on the backs of a select few. It is also time that we recognize the short-comings of an all-volunteer force with regards to long term conflicts. Take Admiral Mullen's concerns to heart, and develop the plan now to address our ability to maintain a sustained conflict. You can be sure that our enemies will not sit idly by while we gear up when the time comes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Senate Energy Bill on Calendar

Senate bill S.1419 introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is now on the Senate calendar for consideration. (Washington Post: The Senate's Energy Bill.) There are five key points in the bill, each of which merit discussion:

  • Require the use of 36 billion gallons of bio-fuels by 2022.
  • Raise automobile fuel standards to 35 MPG by 2020.
  • Criminalize price gouging of petroleum fuels during energy emergencies.
  • Boosting energy efficiency standards.
  • Improve international cooperation on energy.
Let me begin by saying that I do not in any way oppose the energy debate this bill will foster, nor am I opposed to the intentions of the Senate or the bill's sponsor with regards to the reformation of our energy policy and energy standards. To be sure, both our policy and standards are in serious need of reform. There are, however, some shortcomings in the bill as it currently exists that I wish to discuss.

36 billion gallons of bio-fuels by 2022

On the surface, this sounds both logical and feasible. The more we increase our use of bio-fuels, the less we rely on petroleum or petroleum byproducts for our energy needs. The problem with this approach, however, is that it introduces conflicting needs for grains (typically corn) that could be used for either food or energy. By linking food grains to energy, it creates an economic dynamic that raises the price of a low-cost food source to the much higher level of an energy source. While I agree with the spirit of the bill - find a viable alternative to petroleum products - I do not agree with the use of bio-fuels for this purpose. This section of the bill requires modification such that it does not create a relationship between food crops and energy crops.

Raise fuel standards to 35 MPG by 2020

Is there anyone in the nation that does not support this portion of the bill? Given our current technology, there is no legitimate reason not to implement these standards. In fact, there's no legitimate reason to wait until 2020 for those standards to be realized. This portion of the bill has my full support.

Criminalize price gouging

While I agree with the spirit of this clause, I'm not sure how to enforce it or even define it. Is what we are seeing today truly price gouging or is it the natural course of a free market? One of the most disturbing trends that I see today is not the upward spiral of gasoline prices. Rather, it's the lack of any corresponding downward spiral of gasoline demand. Previous logic held that gasoline consumption would decrease as the price increased. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that has not held true. Some of it is our absurd propensity for over-sized vehicles under the false illusion that they are somehow safer. But that is not the whole story. The fact is, Americans are on the road longer today than they were a decade ago, even if the length of the commute (in miles) has not increased. There is much more traffic congestion today than a decade ago. There is also a significant amount of road construction along key arteries, especially in heavily populated areas. For me personally, my daily commute has gone from 30 minutes round trip to 90 minutes round trip, even though the distance remains the same. So consumption is actually flat or increasing while prices continue to rise.

The other issue with this section of the bill has to do with the composition of the price of a gallon of gas. In my home state of RI, the local gas station makes on average 8 cents per gallon of gas. That's a bit low when you consider that the station is really making a 2.7% profit on a gallon. The station is certainly not price gouging! The state, on the other hand, is making 43 cents per gallon in taxes! That's a 14.5% profit per gallon. So who is doing the actual gouging? Is it the station or the state? Some would argue that it's the oil refiner, but I'm not even sure that's true since the wholesale price is being set in free market auction at the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Don't get me wrong, I support the spirit behind this portion of the bill. I just don't know how to define gouging or how to enforce it.

Boosting energy efficiency standards

This one's a no-brainer. Improving our overall energy efficiency benefits everyone. It benefits the consumer, and it benefits the manufacturer. The challenge, however, is a conflict between energy efficiency and emissions controls. Unfortunately, the two do not work well together. Improving emissions, controlling pollution (both air and water), and adhering to ever increasing safety and environmental requirements costs energy. Now, I am not suggesting that we ignore the environmental aspects, however we either need to achieve some happy balance between the two or we must refocus our attention on more efficient forms of energy in the first place. Nuclear energy is a good example of that. One of the best ways of improving our overall energy efficiency is to revitalize our nuclear energy programs. It's by far the most efficient energy source we have given today's technology.

Improving International Cooperation on Energy

Good luck with this one. Oh, it sounds great on paper, but the reality is that there are too many competing interests for this to happen. When you look at the developing countries of China and India, their energy consumption is focused entirely on the growth of their economies. China has already stated that their first priority is economic growth, even if that flies in the face of energy efficiency or pollution control. The harsh reality, though, is that international cooperation must include China and India or the debate is pretty much a non-starter. What I have not seen anyone propose is a viable means of bringing China and India into the fold. Until that happens, International Cooperation will be a cute slogan but nothing more.

In summary, there are many aspects of this bill that I support. There are other aspects that need work as outlined above. What I am still waiting to see is a requirement from either side of the aisle that we address the real problem, that being the lack of development towards a new renewable energy source that will meet our long term needs. To date, none of the solutions proposed - bio-fuel, wind, solar, hydrogen cells, even nuclear energy - come close to fulfilling that requirement. So that challenge remains. Let's see some research funding aimed at developing a new fuel source that can bring us will into the 21st century.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Military Talks "Post Occupation" Plans

There is now talk in military circles about a smaller "Post Occupation" force in Iraq that does not constitute a total US troop pullout, but also does not maintain current troop levels. The goal is to move roughly two-thirds of the troops out of Iraq by late 2008. (Washington Post: Military Envisions Longer Stay in Iraq.)

My readers can attest that you would be hard pressed to find a more ardent supporter of our actions in Iraq than I. Despite that unwavering support, I find it very difficult to understand the logic behind this "Post Occupation" concept. There's something we seem to have failed to learn from history. It takes roughly twenty four hours for an army of liberation to become an army of occupation. While the people welcome you with opens arms when troops enter the city to oust a tyrant, those same people awaken then next morning and ask why you're still there. That is what happened in Iraq.

In the eyes of most of the Arab world, and likely the world at large, any US troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future will be considered an occupation force. I don't care if that force is 200,000 strong or down to a mere 40,000, it will still be viewed as an army of occupation. Worse yet, with the smaller numbers projected by the end of 2008, our troops will be ill equipped to maintain any order in the areas they do occupy.

Whether or not the current situation in Iraq may be viewed as a civil war is largely semantics. The fact is, there are three faction groups engaged in a violent power struggle, each using the US military both as pawns to engage their enemy and as targets to ferment unrest. Perhaps the best course of action at this point is to allow the three factions to fight it out, then deal with the winner. Continuing to leave US troops in the middle of those three factions without any clear long term objective does not make much sense either politically or militarily.

What concerns me most about the "Post Occupation" force plan is what appears to be a lack of long range planning. Arguably, that has plagued us from the start, but to suggest at this point that we can discuss post occupation while maintaining a troop presence there is ludicrous. It would seem to me that we are merely setting up our troops to be even more of a target for the various insurgencies without giving them sufficient manpower to safeguard their own positions. As supportive as I've been of our actions in Iraq, I do not see how it is possible to support this "Post Occupation" plan without the prerequisites of a stable Iraqi government, a strong Iraqi military force, a strong Iraqi police force, and an end to the insurgency that is currently plaguing the region. Until those prerequisites are met, there is no "Post" anything.

The troop reduction plans as stated appear to be more political than anything. It's not coincidental that the target listed was late 2008. As I recall, that would be right around the next presidential election. It is bad enough that our troops are currently being used as political pawns by the three warring factions in Iraq. Let's make absolutely certain that they are not used as political pawns here in the US. Our troops deserve far better than that. They deserve our support and Congressional funding sufficient to do the job. Most importantly, however, they deserve a clearly thought out long term plan that includes achievable objectives that justify their deployment into a war zone. When I hear this latest "Post Occupation" nonsense, I have to wonder how far removed we are from the latter.

Pakistan Duplicitous on Nuclear Pact

In what has to be one of the world's greatest ironies, Pakistan has agreed to join the US and Russia in combating global nuclear terrorism. Well, almost. As Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Tasnim Aslam said, "While joining the initiative, Pakistan has declared that the Global Initiative does not cover Pakistan's military nuclear facilities or activities." So Pakistan is willing to combat global nuclear terrorism while choosing to ignore one of the greatest potential sources of said terrorism, their own nuclear facilities. (The Hindu: Pak. to join global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism.)

On paper, Pakistan is penciled in as a US ally in our current war against Radical Islam. The reality, though, is that Pakistan is the source, training ground, and refuge for the radical Islamic groups that threaten the rest of the world. Terrorists in Pakistan breed faster than cockroaches and they are just as difficult to exterminate. While it may be true that Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is a US ally, on paper at least, it is also true that his conversion to our way of thinking came at gun point, and it is equally true that the US does not hold favor with the overall general population in Pakistan. Truly treating Pakistan like an ally is absurd.

In 2004, a former Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted to running a vast nuclear proliferation network that provided nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, and Libya. What was the official response from President Pervez Musharraf? He pardoned Khan and called him a national hero. So much for our ally, Pakistan.

Make no mistake about it. Pakistan is a terrorist state with nuclear capabilities. Worse yet, the only thing that stands between them and a fundamentalist radical Muslim regime is Musharraf, and his hold is tenuous at best. Once he is out of the picture Pakistan will be run by the Radical Islamic elements that we are fighting world wide. A nuclear equipped Pakistan simply means that it is inevitable that the terrorists prosecuting their side of the Radical Islamic War will also have nuclear capabilities.

Musharraf cannot currently control his population, nor does he appear to have any real desire to do so. It is only a matter of time before the US is forced to deal harshly with Pakistan. They are providing safe haven for our enemies, they stymie any attempts by the US military to pursue our enemies into Pakistan, and they have already admitted to providing other rogue nations with nuclear technologies. How much more proof do we need that Pakistan is itself a rogue nation?

So it is nice to hear that Pakistan will join the US and Russia in a global fight against nuclear terrorism. I say we start right there, in Pakistan. Eliminate their nuclear capabilities and we've already accounted for the major source of nuclear proliferation to other rogue nations in the region. Once that is accomplished, we can focus on the other major source of nuclear proliferation to rogue nations: Russia. But that's another topic for discussion.